Doing it All . . . Or Nothing in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is our family’s go-to getaway for spring break. We stay at the same, time-honored location, La Quinta Resort, where we’ve been going for years, and where my girls want to get married someday. On our latest visit, we even brought our dog. I guess at this point you could call it a family tradition.

Even our dog loves La Quinta.

It’s a dog’s life in Palm Springs!

Our daughters have been coming here since they were babies.

Our daughters have been coming here since they were babies.

Each time we visit though, we’re faced with a dilemma. Do we venture out to experience all the attractions in the Palm Springs area, or do we guard the pool all day? It’s a tough call because in general, we’re a “go-go-go” type of family, and all of our trips usually involve a jam-packed agenda of sights and activities.

It's hard to get out of our lounge chairs!

It was hard to get out of our lounge chairs!

But Palm Springs is different. There are no Eiffel Towers to climb or ancient ruins to explore. It’s a break from life’s hectic pace, a chance to snooze on a hammock, have a margarita at noon, and maybe, just maybe, get in a game of tennis before dinner.

Let’s face it, nice resorts are hard to leave. This time was no different. My husband and I had such ambitious plans for exciting off-site activities, but all of our talk (by the pool, mind you) resulted in precious little action, with the exception of dinner one night in downtown Palm Springs and a short hike in the desert.

We had perfect lighting for our desert hike.

Hiking in the desert near La Quinta.

But let’s say we had been more motivated. What could we have done? Here are some ideas for family-friendly activities in and around Palm Springs – some of which we’ve experienced; some of which we’re still hoping to do.

Overcome Your Fear of Heights on the Aerial Tramway
Taking this tram up 8,500 feet into the San Jacinto Mountains has always been on my Palm Springs bucket list, but for whatever reason it never seems to happen. The two and half mile ride to the summit isn’t cheap, but from what I hear the view is well worth it. There are great hiking trails and two good places to eat – one really nice and another that is more café style. Both grant impressive panoramas of the Coachella Valley. It gets cold up there – about 30 degrees cooler than the valley floor – so dress accordingly. For details, go to www.pstramway.com.  (Note that the tram is closed this summer from August 10 through August 30, 2013.)

Hang Out in Downtown Palm Springs

A26-foot tall Marilyn Monroe!

A26-foot tall Marilyn Monroe!

OK, this activity we did do, and I have to say, downtown Palm Springs is interesting – a cross between Santa Cruz, Carmel, and Provincetown. The downtown is in the midst of a $100 million renovation and you can feel the energy. We went to a hopping Mexican restaurant called Las Casuelas with some very large and potent margaritas, but really you could go anywhere, there are so many restaurants from which to choose. Tourists flocked around the three-story statue of Marilyn Monroe created by sculptor Seward Johnson. The display is part of a year-long celebration of the starlet that began last May with the statue’s unveiling. For more ideas of what to do in Palm Springs, go to www.visitpalmsprings.com.

Be Inspired and Escape the Heat at The Follies
This popular cabaret-style show features a very talented and vivacious group of seniors strutting their stuff. The old-time songs and the jokes may be lost on the kiddies, but it’s hard for the whole family not to enjoy and be inspired by the high caliber, high energy singing and dancing. Kids over six are permitted, but older children and teenagers will probably get more out of it, especially since the show runs almost three hours. Check ticket availability and pricing at www.psfollies.com, and ask your hotel concierge if they offer discounts.

Learn About Native Wildlife and Plants at the Living Desert

Up close and personal with desert wildlife.

Up close and personal with desert wildlife.

If you’ve got young kids, this is a must-do activity. Located 15 minutes from Palm Springs, the Living Desert is a hybrid zoo and botanical garden, featuring native desert habitats and the flora and fauna that live within them. (Though I’m quite certain that giraffes are not native to the area!) Special shows and demonstrations are scheduled throughout the day, and interpretive exhibits educate visitors about the desert ecosystem and its conservation. It’s usually hot in the spring and summer months, especially at midday, but there are quiet, shaded areas to escape the heat and crowds. We used to go here a lot when the kids were younger, and I imagine we’ll be back someday for another visit. Check www.livingdesert.org for details.

Commune with Nature at Joshua Tree

Photo credit: National Park Service website

Photo credit: National Park Service website

Joshua Tree National Park is about an hour from Palm Springs, and can be accessed at two gates via Route 62 and one gate off Route 10. Unlike other National Parks, such as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, where beauty meets you head on, Joshua Tree is more sublime; it’s beauty lies in its desolation and fragility. At a glance, the park seems to be nothing more than a barren, wind-blown desert. Be patient, though, and you’ll find hints of a vibrant life force occupied by birds, lizards, ground squirrels, and nearly 750 species of plants. For kids, the landscape is other-worldly, and they’ll enjoy scrambling on the rock formations and seeking out critters along the park’s many nature trails. For information, go to www.nps.gov/jotr.

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